ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Stars Come Out for "Awesome/Awful" Audio, Plus Unlikely Couple Len Cariou and Dr. Jane Goodall

By Seth Rudetsky
April 23, 2012

A week in the life of actor, radio host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.



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"My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan" is finally out as an audio book. I spent two weeks recording it and then someone edited all of our different takes and now it's officially available. The characters, the actors who play them and the premise follow.

In a shocking act of nepotism, I cast myself as the lead character, Justin Goldblatt who's an overweight, unpopular 15-year-old who sports a Jewfro. Justin is sick of being the school loser and decides that this year he will become popular and somehow start dating Chuck, the school quarterback played by Will Swenson. Chuck is dating Becky (played by Megan Hilty), one of the most popular girls in school and one of the prettiest. One day after detention, Becky's blustering father (Marc Kudisch) makes them break up because Becky is destined to become a doctor and Chuck is dumb jock. Since Justin is a bio whiz whom Becky's father approves of, he comes up with a scheme where he'll pretend to date Becky so she can secretly keep dating Chuck (and Justin can secretly try to win over Chuck!). The plot gets very convoluted because even though Justin becomes popular with all the so-called cool kids, he loses the real friends he's had for years like Quincy Slatton (played by Paul Castree) plus he has to avoid his annoying, meddling mother (Andrea Burns) and, worst of all, he has to deal with his disapproving and vegan best friend, Spencer (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson…recorded via Skype from L.A.). And always the character actress, Ana Gasteyer, plays the teacher who complains about her maladies non-stop, earning the nickname "E.R." Ms. Horvath is her real name, but she's called E.R. because every time a student passes her in the hallway she can be heard loudly complaining about her "bum fibula" or telling someone about her acupuncture and that "those painful needles are simply not helping my colon do its job in a timely manner." You can hear all of these amazing actors as well as my signature nasality by visiting audible.com.  Now, let me give you a directive to go see the feature film "Chimpanzee." This week, specifically!

Seth with Dr. Jane Goodall

I just interviewed Dr. Jane Goodall on "Seth Speaks," and she told me that Disney is donating a portion of the profits to The Jane Goodall Institute, which helps save chimpanzees. But only for the first week of the film, so get thee ASAP! It was so cool interviewing her because she's such a pioneer. Back in the early '60s she got funding to observe chimps in the wild even though they had never been observed before (they always got spooked and ran away). Of course, at first they didn't trust her and kept running away, and I asked her how she had the patience to keep coming back every day. She said (in her British accent), "Hmm…let me give you an example of my patience." She then proceeded to tell me that when she was four (!) she went to a farm on a little family vacation and her job was to collect eggs. She knew the hens were responsible for the eggs but had no idea where they came from on the hen's body. She kept asking but nobody would tell her. So, she sat in the hen house and waited until a hen laid an egg so she could find out. She was four years old and she sat there expectantly for…four hours! So, to her, going back into the wild day after day and hoping the chimps would finally act normally around her wasn't a big deal. Because she was finally able to observe them in their natural habitat, she was the first person to find out that chimps made and used tools! No other animals had been observed doing that. And chimps were always thought of as being vegetarians, but she observed them eating meat. Of course, it went way too far and she also saw them also be cannibals. Horrifying. She's a vegetarian (like me!) and I asked her if she cooks for herself. After I asked that, I got British sassed: "How can I cook when I'm on the road 350 days of the year?!" Ok! Ok! She's in her 70s and looks amazing and when I told her that Juli loves chimps and wildlife she recommended her organization called Roots and Shoots. It's for young people and combines nature conservancy and community service. Brava! Go to www.RootsAndShoots.org and see "Chimpanzee," which Dr. Goodall says has the most amazing chimpanzee footage she's ever seen.

Melissa Errico
Photo by Peter James Zielinski

Now, back to show biz! Everything is starting to move super fast for me. Speaking of which, watch me deconstruct "Moving Too Fast" and Norbert Leo Butz. I'm feeling a combination of excitement and an impending breakdown, but I do love having multiple projects. This week I'm flying to Cleveland to do my show on Thursday night at PlayhouseSquare (info/tix here).

Meanwhile, I'm frantically writing my sequel to "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which is due in June. And I'm booking my Broadway at the Art House series in Provincetown (it starts in early July). And I'm working on the transfer of Disaster! to a bigger venue for the beginning of June. And I just secured the venue and date of a big benefit I'm doing for my niece's school. The June 18 event is going to be at this amazing new space called XL on 42nd Street. The benefit is called Not Since High School. The title refers to the fact that the evening will feature my Broadway pals singing songs from roles they played when they were back in school. So far, I have the great Mandy Gonzales from Wicked and In the Heights. She played a slew of roles in her childhood including Anita, Maria Von Trapp and, naturally for any 'tween, Bloody Mary. Speaking of In the Heights, I also have the great Chris Jackson and Josh Henry (currently in Porgy and Bess). And Melissa Errico has agreed to perform and will perhaps recreate her stint as Evita, which she played at 12 years old in summer camp. P.S., her Che that year was none other than future Tony Award winner… Jason Robert Brown! Visit xlcabaret.com.

Back to "Seth Speaks," on SiriusXM. Besides Dr. Goodall, I had the amazing Len Cariou as a guest. We went back to his first Broadway show, Applause, and he told me about the gypsy run-through (the dress rehearsal for the Broadway community). It was held in the afternoon. After the bows, he was about to leave and head to dinner, but then he saw everyone from the audience coming onstage to schmooze. One of the cast members came over to him and asked, "What did Hal think?" Len responded, "Who's Hal?" His fellow cast member said, "That guy who was talking to you." Len asked, "You mean the guy with the glasses on his head?" His friend, annoyed, said, "Yes!!!! Hal Prince!" Len is Canadian and this was his first show so he hadn't met any Broadway bigwigs yet. He freaked out when he realized that Hal Prince was the guy who came over and told him that he was one of the best leading men he'd seen in years! A few years later, Hal sent Len the script to A Little Night Music and asked him to audition…for Carl-Magnus.

Len Cariou
photo by Robb Johnston

Len felt he had played that type of part many times and wasn't interested in doing it again. But he wanted to read and sing for Hal and Stephen Sondheim so he went to the audition. Afterwards, Hal gave him a new script that now had lyrics. There were no songs, but there were lyrics (that Len thought were terrific) but now he extra-dreaded telling Hal he didn't want the part. Hal called the next day and Len got ready to drop the bomb when, instead, Hal dropped one first: he offered Len the role of Fredrick. Len told Hal, "I'm 34! The script says that Fredrick is supposed to be 50!" Hal dismissed his concern with, "Meh! It's a period piece." And, for those that don't know, here's the classic Night Music story: The 11-o'clock number hadn't been written yet and rehearsals were well under way. Len and Glynis Johns felt that their characters would act differently than what was in the original script because the show had evolved, so Hal suggested that they improvise a scene and have Sondheim watch it so he could finally write Len's big number. Len called "Steve" and he came and watched them do a scene they made up. The next day, Sondheim came in and gave good news and bad news: The good news was he finally wrote the big 11-o'clock number. The bad news (for Len) was that the song was now for Glynis. Ouch! Yes, it was "Send in the Clowns," and became Sondheim's most well-known song. Here's Len and Glynis, ten years later, recreating the whole scene and song.  

Speaking of A Little Night Music and Sondheim, the original Anne (Victoria Mallory) and the original Young Ben from Follies (Kurt Peterson) are doing a concert called When Everything Was Possible at City Center, with tons of music and amazing never-before-seen original production photos from all of their shows. It's this coming Sunday, April 29, and I'll be there! Here's ticket information

Seth, Juli, Caissie Levy and Da'Vine Joy Randolph
Photo by Andy Sandberg

This week I saw Ghost with Juli and once again I'm obsessed with Caissie Levy's voice. So good! We went backstage afterwards and, life imitating art-style, we saw that Caissie has a potter's wheel in her dressing room. She said she prepares the clay herself because it has to be a certain way or she can't work with it. I was nervous taking Juli to the show because the story has some scary parts, but nothing was as scary as what happened at our own apartment recently. James called my name in a panic a few days ago because, in our backyard, was a rat! Not running. Just walking around, strolling you might say, in broad daylight. We decided to let Sonora out because she's part rat terrier and we thought she'd scare it off. Well, her version of scaring it off was running and grabbing it in her mouth! I heard James screaming but was too scared to look. He said Sonora picked it up, then the rat ran away and tried to escape…by desperately clawing against our glass door! At that point, James was screaming up the octave. Suffice it to say, the rat is still at large, James has vocal damage and we don't let Sonora lick us anymore.

On that note, this week is the Easter Bonnet competition. Go to BroadwayCares.org to see what some people think is the best Broadway show of the year!

(Seth Rudetsky has played piano in the pits of many Broadway shows including Ragtime, Grease and The Phantom of the Opera. He was the artistic producer/conductor for the first five Actors Fund concerts including Dreamgirls and Hair, which were both recorded. As a performer, he appeared on Broadway in The Ritz and on TV in "All My Children," "Law and Order C.I." and on MTV's "Made" and "Legally Blonde: The Search for the Next Elle Woods." He has written the books "The Q Guide to Broadway" and "Broadway Nights," which was recorded as an audio book on Audible.com. He is currently the afternoon Broadway host on Sirius/XM radio and tours the country doing his comedy show, "Deconstructing Broadway." He can be contacted at his website SethRudetsky.com, where he has posted many video deconstructions.)